Hardware

Of Touch Screen Kiosks and Mobile Tablets

My family and I recently took a trip to visit friends who live on Lopez Island, north of Seattle. We also spent a couple of nights in Seattle at the Sheraton downtown. There I got my first hands-on look at Microsoft's Surface

There were three Surface tables in the lobby of the hotel. Most of the time they were in use; people were clearly intrigued by the technology and experience. While the experience is novel and "cool," the content is thin at the moment, and mostly a promotion for Sheraton. The local search capabilities are limited. (It made me wonder if the listings were ad placements.) But that's not the point; the content will improve over time. 

I've always been intrigued by the notion of Internet kiosks distributed throughout town, which can offer some version of Internet access. Surface provides a compelling model for that potential experience. The question is: Where would such Kiosks be placed? Public transportation stops (e.g., subway stations in New York) is a logical choice. Then there are Starbucks of course. I also suggested to one Internet company in the past that ATM machines be used, although that would create longer wait times.

In 2006 UK directory publisher Yell, as part of an ad campaign, offered touch screen, local search kiosks in 20 locations in the UK. Yahoo before that set up a few interactive kiosks in New York and San Francisco to promote its then novel interactive mapping site. 

Surface

The fundamental reason kiosks are interesting to me is because they offer the potential for a richer Internet experience on the go. Even the iPhone, for all its impressiveness, is still small and less desirable than a larger screen. And the majority of people aren't going to carry around their laptops. 

I've also long been fascinated by the potential development of portable Internet devices that are neither conventional laptops nor cellphones. I think they're inevitable (the Kindle points the way). Yet, not even the new so-called "netbooks" really fit the bill (they're for business users and students). That's why TechCrunch's  audacious bid to build a cheap tablet computer is so intriguing. I hope they're able to succeed.

Initiatives such as Sprint's XOHM and others that will follow in its wake are likely to create near ubiquitous connectivity in several years in major US metropolitan areas. Europe will equally be blanketed with coverage. This permits the emergence of a new generation of touch-screen devices that offer larger screens -- to provide more complete Internet experiences -- but that are smaller than a laptop (or netbook).

Don't Call It a 'Store': Android Announces 'Content Market' for Developers

Google/Android quickly adopted the Apple Apps Store concept as a way to showcase and distribute content and applications developed for the Android platform. However Google is taking pains to distinguish its distribution efforts from Apple's iTunes Apps Store:

Developers will be able to make their content available on an open service hosted by Google that features a feedback and rating system similar to YouTube. We chose the term "market" rather than "store" because we feel that developers should have an open and unobstructed environment to make their content available. Similar to YouTube, content can debut in the marketplace after only three simple steps: register as a merchant, upload and describe your content and publish it. We also intend to provide developers with a useful dashboard and analytics to help drive their business and ultimately improve their offerings.

Google is positioning itself as a much more open (read: friendly) environment for mobile developers accordingly. It's going to trust the user community to identify the good apps and weed out the mediocre ones, in contrast to Apple's more "top-down" approach.

TomTom 'Goes Live' with New Devices, Services to Stay Ahead of Smartphones

Personal navigation device (PND) maker TomTom (which recently completed its acquisition of TeleAtlas) introduced a new series of "GO Live" devices and services earlier this year. Those will become available in selected European markets (UK, Germany, France, Netherlands and Switzerland) shortly. TomTom is teamed up with Google to provide local search results on devices as part of that larger suite of services.

Before TomTom, Dash partnered with Yahoo to deliver local search results in car. One of its more innovative services, TomTom allows users on the road to correct maps and incorporates those changes and corrections into its network for all users.  

PND makers are transforming their once narrow navigation devices into much broader and more useful Internet-connected utilities in a bid to head off smartphones, which promise broader functionality and increasingly GPS-enabled maps and directions. Garmin, which also has a relationship with Google, has even developed a smartphone.

As PNDs become Internet access devices and more (selected TomTom devices double as audio book readers), they become much more interesting because of their larger screens. But they will need to continue to innovate and evolve to stay ahead of smartphones, which threaten to render them superfluous.

As I wrote in the preceding post, a new wave of non-phone, mobile Internet devices may emerge that also squeeze traditional PNDs and are tied into next-generation mobile broadband networks such as WiMax and LTE. 

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Maps and directions remain one of the "killer apps" for mobile. In May of this year comScore found the following in a survey of 2,000 US mobile users:

Picture 3

In addition, we just found in a survey (n=789) that "access to maps & directions" was somewhat or very important to 45% of mobile users, as one of the top mobile content categories.

Sprint's XOHM Readies for Baltimore Launch

Sprint has formally announced its XOHM (pronounced zoam) WiMAX mobile broadband service. It will launch in Baltimore, MD in September. WiMax faces a challenge from LTE, which AT&T and Verizon have adopted as their 4G network standard. But WiMax is out of the gate sooner. Consumers, of course, don't care about any of this. They just want access on the go. 

XOHM will eventually be incorporated into Clearwire, the mobile broadband provider majority owned by Sprint but also invested in by Intel, Google, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks.

XOHM

XOHM is an ISP replacement offering that allows people -- rather than using a network card -- to tap into Internet access wherever they are in the coverage area(s), which should eventually be national and even international. It renders hotspots obsolete for subscribers.

There are lots of interesting mobile implications for non-phone mobile Internet access products such as Apple's iPod Touch and Nokia's Internet Tablet(s) and so on. Such products can also potentially become cell-phone substitutes with mobile VoIP products (Skype, Fring, Jaxtr, iCall, etc). Once national coverage is established we should see development of a range of interesting mobile Internet access devices that are not cellphones.

XOHM has also done something interesting for its homescreen or start page. It's formed relationships with a host of local content and infrastructure providers:

  • uLocate Communications (which operates the mobile Where portal)
  • Yelp 
  • Eventful 
  • Topix 
  • NAVTEQ 
  • AccuWeather
  • Openwave Systems 
  • Autodesk Inc.

These companies will provide content to XOHM users that will automatically change based on location (in coverage areas). It will thus eliminate the need to input location in most cases, unless you're looking for a business, event or restaurant somewhere else. There are also significant implications for greater location precision with ad targeting on the Internet for subscribers.

All of these scenarios of course depend on consumer adoption and continued rollouts by Sprint/Clearwire of the service. But the benefits to consumers, assuming affordability, are significant: perpetual access across devices (laptop, mobile) for a single price. 

T-Mobile's Coming 'gPhone'

The Android Guys blog shows the apparently forthcoming G1 handset from T-Mobile, which will be an HTC built Android phone. Here's the diagram:

G1 Diagram

Google back
Image Credits: Android Guys

What's most interesting, from my point of view, is the Google logo on the back of the phone -- effectively making it a "gPhone." If the Google brand is successful selling the phone (when it finally appears) others handsets running Android will likely feature "Google" in some prominent way as well.

It all remains speculation at this point, however. 

Best Buy Distribution May Accelerate iPhone Sales

We'll find out the actual numbers at some point soon but it was estimated by financial analysts that the iPhone 3G sold three million units in its first month. Now US electronics retailer Best Buy is going to sell the device. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal:

Starting Sept. 7, both the eight- and 16-gigabyte models of the 3G phone will be available at all Best Buy stores, except for a handful located in areas where AT&T's wireless service isn't available, Best Buy said.

"Quite honestly, many of our customers come to our store every day asking for it," [a Best Buy spokesman] said. "We're excited we're going to be able to say yes."

Best Buy has hundreds of stores in the United States, Canada, Europe and China. It's unclear whether non-U.S. locations will eventually be able to sell the device. Best Buy also offers buy online, pick up in store capability. It's also not clear whether the iPhone will be among those products that one can buy online and pick up in store.

By making the device more broadly accessible in another chain of physical stores iPhone sales will likely get a boost. By how much is another question to be determined.

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HSBC is considering replacing its BlackBerry fleet with iPhones (to the tune of about 200K units). If it happens and other enterprises follow that would be a big deal and ring alarm bells (I'm sure it already is) in the halls of the BlackBerry enterprise kingdom.

Rumor: T-Mobile "Dream" Android Phone Coming Next Month

First there were the rumors of technical problems and delays surrounding Android. Now there are rumors that the first T-Mobile Android phone (the HTC Dream) will be available in mid-to-late September.

The first Android phone to hit the market will be important and influential in terms of determining how much of a competitor the platform will be for the iPhone. In addition, T-Mobile will be seeking to capture subscribers with the phone and if early sales are strong it may persuade larger carriers (Verizon, AT&T) to offer Android handsets -- although Verizon has said it will permit "any legal handset" on its network.

I'm eager to see and play with an actual Android phone to see how compelling it is.

Strategy Analytics said that BlackBerry devices comprised just over 10% of all Q2 US handset sales. In the smartphone market the battle is shaping up to be between BlackBerry and the iPhone, Symbian will struggle in the US (though it's the global leader). Overll US market leader Motorola is not really a force in smartphone sales. Palm, despite the success of the Centro, is a diminishing factor.

Android and Windows Mobile are unknown variables. Android could be a hit or a flop and, absent substantial innovation, Windows Mobile may find itself overshadowed by these other platforms and thus vulnerable.

One key to success in the smartphone market will be software development. Platforms that are neglected by developers will probably languish.

LiMo Reaches Out to Google, Google Demurs

The Mobile LinuxWorld conference, covered by both InternetNews and InformationWeek, representatives of the LiMo Foundation appeared to reach out to competitor Android/Google to join forces on a common platform to expedite development and create broader reach. Google, for its part, appeared to resist the call:

"Unification for the sake of unification is not the path we decided to go down," [Google's Eric Chu] said during a panel discussion of the mobile marketplace at the LinuxWorld conference in San Francisco. "In the end, what matters most is what consumers are looking for. But having too many people on the design phase, especially early on, would have hurt the project. You could have three different user interfaces and a couple of application layers. That doesn't make sense."

LiMo already has a range of phones from Motorola, LG, Panasonic and others in various markets today. Android phones are supposed to be out (from T-Mobile, HTC) by the end of this year.

There are a number of overlapping members in both the LiMo Foundation and the Open Handset Alliance.

The Limits of Marketing

Some products, like Vitamin Water, are entirely creations of marketing. Others have intrinsic properties that determine whether they will succeed or fail and no amount of marketing can overcome those qualities.

In this context I was struck by a new "James Bond phone" from Sony Ericsson. The company is doing a push for the C902 "Cybershot" in conjunction with the new Bond movie. Sony Ericsson posted a dramatic Q2 loss amid weaking demand for its phones.

From what I can tell, the otherwise unremarkeable C902 "Cybershot" is not going to be helped by association with James Bond or other clever marketing.

Plus, the title of the new film, Quantum of Solace, is one of the worst in recent memory. Perhaps Sony Ericsson should take a page from Nokia and try product placement with fantasy phones that are cool but, which haven't been produced.

An 'iPhone Nano' on the Way?

As all rumors are these days, it's probably partly true and largely inaccurate. Yet, the UK's Daily Mail reports:

Apple is about to launch a 'nano' version of the hugely successful iPhone. It is expected to be in the shops in time for Christmas.

The product will be launched in the UK at up to £150 for pay-as-you-go customers by O2, the mobile phone group owned by Spain's Telefonica. 'This will be a big one,' said an industry source.

There's no detail generally beyond this and no identification of sources. It's intriguing to consider what an iPhone Nano might look like or how close it would be to the iPhone itself in terms of features, etc. Right now, however, it's just fun speculation.

IDC: Smartphones Continue to Outpace Industry

IDC, which tracks global shipments of mobile handsets, said that smartphone growth was 40% YoY compared with 10% growth for so-called feature phones. But even feature phones are getting better and becoming more viable as mobile Internet access devices.

According to IDC here were the Q2 numbers for the top five global handset makers:

IDC Q2 handset numbers

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For those interested, here are the Motorola Q2 earnings.

Centro Selling Well Amid iPhone Frenzy

Unprofitable Palm is selling its $99 Centro phone, despite a big consumer push by Blackberry and the iPhone. The company reported (via Bloomberg) the sale of more than 2 million units in little under a year. The Centro is available from Verizon, Sprint and AT&T.

Consumers are responding to the price of the full-featured phone, which is essentially a Palm Treo 755 with much lower margins. The company also just released an updated Treo, the 800.

Smartphone adoption drives much more data plan and mobile Internet usage. There's a direct correlation:

smartphone internet usage

Source: comScore/M:Metrics (2008)

iPhone for 'the Rich,' Android 'the Masses'

A day after I likened Android phones to Honda and the iPhone to Mercedes, I stumbled upon this interview with the young, German founder of an Android developer community:

Knowingly over bending I can say “Android is for the masses, iPhone for the rich." There will be a great variety of Android devices all over the world, where there will always be just the iPhone.

This is Google's hope: a thousand Android phones. That's both a strength and a weakness of the strategy -- more phones but less quality control.

So far there has been no phone to compete with the iPhone (notwithstanding the claims). But "good enough" experiences could in fact be competitive over the long term. Arguably the key to the iPhone's differentiation is the Apps Store. Presumably however Android will be able to match that with a similar range of functional and appealing applications.

Google CEO Touts iPhone Benefits

Even though Google's Android is a competitor to the iPhone Google has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the visibility and success of Apple's device. Fortune captured some of Schmidt's remarks about mobile and the iPhone in particular during his one-on-one interview at the Fortune "Brainstorm Tech" conference in Half Moon Bay, California:

“It shows you the power of a device that is a step forward,” said Schmidt in an interview Wednesday at Brainstorm Tech with Fortune senior writer David Kirkpatrick. “The iPhone has a fully functional browser. We can show desktop ads, not mobile ads. That’s a huge change from our perspective.”

Google would prefer to have mobile and the Internet be more unified than separate for advertising purposes. But there are challenges with "full HTML" browsers: desktop ads are less visible and therefore much less effective on the smaller screen.

As we wrote earlier this year:

Even though Android was in the works before the launch of the iPhone there’s a way in which they’re “connected at the hip” or Android is the direct beneficiary of the iPhone in a certain way. There might not have been as much carrier and OEM interest in Android had their not been an iPhone to show the benefits of a better mobile user experience.

It's almost certain, because of the ways that it can be configured, that the Android phones and experiences that show up in version 1.0 will not be as "good" as the iPhone. But if they become as widely available as Google hopes they'll help push the mobile Internet forward on a larger scale. In many ways Google hopes to become Honda (less flash, more unit sales) to Apple's Mercedes (more prestige, fewer sales).

AT&T See Strong Wireless Growth, Has Voice for iPhone

Many companies, including Nuance, are working on voice control or speech enabling applications for the iPhone. But iPhone carrier AT&T has reportedly developed voice control for iPhone apps itself. The AppleInsider blog has a video showing use of the capability with the Yellowpages.com iPhone application. (Scroll for the video.)

The speech recognition capability and processing occurs on the server side and isn't on the device itself. It also isn't limited to the iPhone and could work with other handsets or appliances like IP-connected TV.

Meanwhile, AT&T posted modest growth in Q2 overall (4.7% YoY) but more "robust" growth in wireless (15.8%):

"The Apple iPhone 3G is a dramatic example of this transformation," Stephenson added. "In the days following our exclusive U.S. launch of this new device, powered by the nation's fastest 3G wireless network, customer response has been everything we had anticipated and more. This strengthens our wireless business, and it reinforces our positive view of the opportunities ahead for AT&T and the industry."

AT&T is subsidizing the new iPhone (to the tune of $400), which accounts for much of its rapid sales pace.

Audacious TechCrunch Tablet Project

TechCrunch -- that's right the blog -- has decided to build a WiFi-enabled, touch-screen, open-source Internet tablet, aiming for a price of $200.

TechCrunch tablet

Image credit: TechCrunch

If they can build a product at that price it may actually come into being as a mass-market device (PC makers fear such devices). I've written again and again about a scenario in which we carry a "phone phone" that does voice very well and a larger screen device for mobile Internet browsing. This TechCrunch initiative further convinces me that that scenario will come to pass -- it's only a matter of time.

The real question is not the hardware but the connectivity issue: will there be enough coverage to drive such a product to mass-market status? If, for example, Clearwire/Xohm takes off and/or LTE takes flight and is available to the public at reasonable rates, these sorts of devices will proliferate. Kindle is the early model.

As TechCrunch points out, the form factor is somewhere between the current iPhone and a laptop. The next-generation OLPC is another such device. I'd love to see TechCrunch succeed in this intiative, especially at the desired price-point.

Survey of Local iPhone Apps

Apple announced today that it had sold a million iPhones in three days (globally). It also announced 10 million applications downloads since last Thursday.

We've cataloged more than 55 applications (roughly 10%) that leverage the iPhone's location awareness capability. But we're just at the beginning of these services We've grouped them into the following categories:

  • Restaurants & Entertainment
  • Social Networking & Friend Finders
  • Yellow & White Pages
  • Movie Related
  • News & Weather
  • Transit & Travel
  • Miscellaneous

This is just a survey and not reviews of all these applications. However, it's interesting to see what's there and what's missing from this initial group of LBS apps.

Click here to view the findings. Note: this is a very large file (9 MB).

What's Real in Renewed Talk of A 'GPhone'?

There have been so many stories since the Friday release of iPhone 3G it's dizzying: the lines, the European sales, the software update glitches, the rapturous reviews of the Apps Store and so on. Even as they curse the iPhone all Apple's competitors owe the company a debt of gratitude for helping to build awareness of the mobile Internet and giving the industry the kick in the pants (and shock) it needed.

Lines for iPhone in SF

(Lines at the Apple Store in SF on Friday)

Amid all this TechCrunch and GigaOm are speculating about the potential (re)emergence of a branded Google phone or "GPhone," based on a snippet of a quote that appeared in an article from MediaWeek/Hollywood Reporter this past week:

The trio of Google execs also used the opportunity to talk about the inroads the company is making with its own branded mobile phone as a replacement for the iPhone, as well as the Chinese market and how they're treated there -- and even Google's inhouse educational programs and the salaries and potential of teachers.

The writer was probably talking about Android and not a GPhone. But there almost certainly will be Google branded phones in the market after Android phones finally make their debut. Now what does "Google branded" mean exactly? It could mean one or both of two things. The Google software is prominent enough that the phone is primarily identified with Google (something akin to how Micorosft promotes Windows Mobile). Alternatively it could mean a specially designed handset (as TechCrunch posits) that bears the Google name. (This latter scenario is probable but more complicated for Google from a competitive standpoint.)

Google developed Android and brought together the Open Handset Alliance (OHA) so that it could help move the whole industry forward and indirectly advance its own position in mobile (see, "Will Google Dominate the Mobile Web?"). If mobile usage and search rise, so will Google is the logic here. That is a fair assumption.

Android is fundamentally about scale on a global basis, which is one of the primary values and drivers in Google's thinking about products. But the company, recognizing the success of the iPhone, has always also considered its own branded phone. It has never shut the door on this possibility. Here's a summary of Google CEO Eric Schmidt's remarks during the conference call held to announce Android and the OHA in November, 2007:

ES: Imagine not just one Gphone, but a thousand Gphones as a result of the partnerships … the many other people who will be joining the open initiative. We forgot to tell you that it’s available next week, and the terms are the broadest in the industry.

Q: ………..Gphone?

ES: We are not announcing a Google phone.

Q: Eric, I want to go back to the Gphone–what’s the deal?

ES: The deal is we don’t pre-announce products… if there were to be a Gphone, it would run Android…”

Thus I would imagine we'll see varying degrees of "GPhones," depending on the prominence of Google software and Google services. But I would also image the company will bring out a phone that has the word "Google" on the plastic casing that houses the chips and software.

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A GPhone and Carriers: Verizon and AT&T have "opened up" to allow third-party phones on their networks. This would permit a GPhone, which almost certainly wouldn't be sold by Verizon -- although potentially by competitors such as T-Mobile, which has already promised Android phones this year -- to operate on the major U.S. carrier networks.

Recall that Google bid in the US 700MHz spectrum auction to help "unlock" the U.S. carrier grip on wireless spectrum access. Google continues to work on mobile broadband access through the "White Spaces Coalition."The company is also an investor in the Sprint/Clearwire WiMax initiative. All these efforts to gain direct access to mobile broadband further point to the possibility of Google-branded hardware devices.

A branded GPhone is thus be all but guaranteed a home on U.S. carrier networks or alternative networks. In Europe a GPhone could be immediately introduced across networks.

YouTube Demo of Where iPhone App

Here's a demo of the Where iPhone app on YouTube.

Where on the iPhone

Where is just one of a growing number of applications with "friend finder" or awareness capability (Brightkite, Loopt, Whrrl, etc.). This capability will taking getting used to and raises privacy issues for consumers who will have to learn how to negotiate this new "cultural" arena.

The iPhone Apps Store Launches

The apps store has launched on the most recent version of iTunes. There are tons of apps (500 approx), most of which appear to be free. Here are some screen captures:

Itunes store 1

iPhone applications

iphone social apps

Eventful

Where

Yellowpages.com

Yelp

I haven't counted all the location-aware apps but there are a range of them.

As we've argued in the past its the applications and software that will ultimate distance the iPhone from capable imitators and would be "iPhone Killers." We'll see if Blackberry and Android can build up a similar developer ecosystem and set of applications.

Publishers are generally struggling with Apple's fetish for control. At the opposite end Android will exercise almost no control over apps developed for the platform, when it finally goes live.

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Here's a price distribution chart for the applications. Meanwhile, the Blackberry "iPhone Killer" falters?